Sunday, October 19, 2014

Super easy weeknight pasta

It's no secret, we eat a lot of pasta at the Little Lake House. Pasta of all kinds. The Chef favors pastas like spaghetti and linguine with big bold Italian style red sauces, and I like lighter sauces, delicate pasta, or at the other end of the spectrum, big hearty pastas and creamy sauces. I'm not a big fan of Alfredo sauce, I think it gets overused on menus and reminds me of ranch dressing- overused. But toss the pasta with a scoop of ricotta or creamy mascarpone cheese and now we're talkin'. 

You definitely need a hearty pasta to hold up with a creamy sauce. Of course gnocchi is a great option, but so are bigger pastas such as orecchiete or "little ears." I love orcchiette because it's cute cup shape holds sauce and bits of garlic, onions, vegetables, whatever your sauce contains. Rigatoni is another big bold pasta shape that I love and also works wonderfully in the recipe we are making today.

Coming up with this dish was out of necessity. I had some prosciutto left over from a previous recipe and didn't want to see it go to waste, and some baby spinach left over from another recipe. Just enough of a few ingredients to make a quick pasta toss that's creamy and delicious. Like many pasta dishes, this one is very flexible. Swap the spinach for a cup or so of leftover peas. Add the last few mushrooms hiding in the veggie drawer. Have some unused fresh herbs? Toss them in! If you can't find mascarpone cheese, or say you have about half a cup of cream cheese to use up, go ahead and swap it. Now let's get cooking.

To make my Creamy Pasta with Prosciutto and Spinach, you will need-
  • 1 pkg orecchiette or rigatoni
  • 8 oz package mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tb olive oil, divided
  • 2 tb butter
  • couple big handful baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 or 5 slices prosciutto, cut up
  • juice and zest of one-half lemon
  • salt and pepper
Bring a large stockpot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook til al dente. Meanwhile, in small pan heat 2 tb of the olive oil and the butter. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender and browned. If needed, add the remaining olive oil and saute the garlic over medium low heat until softened and not browned. Add the prosciutto and cook for a minute or two until slightly crisped but not like bacon.

When the pasta is done, drain well, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid. I like to use one of those bamboo-handled skimming tools from the Asian store- I can scoop the pasta right out of the water. Immediately toss the hot pasta with all the ingredients, adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooking liquid if needed (I did not need it) to make a creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. 

I love the freshness of the spinach in this dish. Barely wilted from the heat of the pasta, the flavor and nutrients are retained, and so is the texture. The Mascarpone cheese melts into a smooth and creamy sauce with the starchy pasta water and the garlic and Parmesan cheese bring a savory tone. The biggest bonus? A luxe ingredient like prosciutto goes a long way in this dish without robbing your wallet and it's much more subtle than bacon. It's so creamy and flavorful with the savory mushrooms and garlic and the fresh pop of lemon I hope you give it a try sometime.

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